National Football League (NFL) owners are engaged in discussions regarding how the league will respond to players who kneel in protest during the national anthem, and one of their reported solutions seems likely to only increase tensions between the league and players.
Sports Illustrated reported Tuesday that owners have proposed imposing a 15-yard penalty on teams whose players protest during the anthem. Whether teams are required to come out on the field during the anthem would be left up to the home team. It’s unclear why a protest that takes place before the game would result in a penalty assessed during the game.
This reported move comes from a gathering of team owners in Atlanta, Georgia, where kneeling during the anthem was to be at the top of the agenda. An NFL official previously said their expectation was for teams to set their own policies.
Many players today are kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial inequality. Then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the movement by taking a knee during the 2016 season.
Other players have followed his lead, but President Donald Trump’s vicious attack on protesting players in 2017 led to a massive expansion of players kneeling across various sports leagues. And while most players have not experienced professional retaliation from their employers, Kaepernick has remained without an NFL job since the 2016 season. Earlier this month, Kaepernick and fellow former 49er Eric Reid sued the NFL, alleging that the league has colluded against them for their protest.
That allegation fits into the league’s approach to the protests since Kaepernick initially took a knee. Instead of taking a definitive stance on the issue, the NFL has awkwardly sought a middle ground that seeks to avoid angering those opposed and the players who bring in millions of dollars a week.
It doesn’t help matters that Trump, the loudest critic of the protests, frequently uses the bully pulpit to blast players who participate. In a not-too-subtle dig on the NFL, the president recently lavished praise on NASCAR for not having drivers participate in the protests. Despite condemnation from many athletes, Trump has shown little interest in letting things go, ensuring that he’ll remain in the middle of this story as the 2018 season begins.
Update, May 23, 12:00pm: The NFL announced on Wednesday that league owners unanimously approved a new set of guidelines related to the national anthem. Billed as a compromise, the new rules do not come with any in-game penalties as was suggested, but does impose fines on teams whose players or personnel sit or kneel during the national anthem. Teams would also be given the ability to levy their own fines on any player who does not stand during the anthem.
In exchange, the league removed language from its Game Operations Manual that required players to be on the field during the playing of the national anthem. Now, players will be allowed to remain in their locker room or otherwise off the field.
Update, May 23, 1:00pm: The NFL Players’ Association released a statement on Wednesday afternoon slamming owners for unanimously instituting a new league-wide policy regarding the national anthem.
“The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new ‘policy.’,” the statement reads. “The vote by NFL club CEOs today contradicts the statements made to our player leadership by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Chairman of the NFL’s Management Council John Mara about the principles, values and patriotism of our League.”
— NFLPA (@NFLPA) May 23, 2018
The union also vowed to carefully review the new guidelines and formally challenge any part of the new policy that might run afoul of their collective bargaining agreement.